governing object choice

by tobybee

In her book Epistemology of the Closet, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick provides this account of the role of object choice (that is, the focus of one’s desire) in determining sexual orientation:

It is a rather amazing fact that, of the very many dimensions along which the genital activity of one person can be differentiated from that of another (dimensions that include preference for certain acts, certain zones or sensations, certain physical types, a certain frequency, certain symbolic investments, certain relations of age or power, a certain species, a certain number of participants, and so on) precisely one, the gender of the object choice, emerged from the turn of the century, and has remained, as THE dimension denoted by the now ubiquitous category of ‘sexual orientation.

I was thinking about this famous quote yesterday in relation to the construction of Jewish sexualities, and wondering if it could perhaps be troubled a bit. That is, it seems to me that – at certain moments and in certain places – for Jews the direction of one’s object choice towards Jews, and away from non-Jews, is/was seen as the first definer of (sexual) identity. Or if not a definer, the first way in which one’s choice is named. That is, the priority is to name whether one marries or couples “in” or “out”, rather than the gender of the person with whom the couple is made.

And then today I came across this article, which describes a regime of attempted control reinforces that idea (although I would think that any form of homosexual or queer sexuality is invisible or denied to the people who run this hotline):

Hotline lets callers inform on Jewish-Arab couples

Lehava group steps up campaign to stop intermarriage and ‘save the daughters of Israel’ from their non-Jewish suitors


A right-wing, anti-assimilation organization that campaigns to prevent Arab men from dating Jewish women has opened a hotline enabling members of the public to inform on women so that they can be persuaded to end the relationship.

When called, a recording on the Lehava hotline says the service is meant to “save the daughters of Israel.” In addition to offering support for women, the line also provides the names and telephone numbers of Arab men that the organization suspects of dating Jewish women.

Callers to the hotline, which can be reached at 054-8497687, are given a number of choices from a menu in which a recorded voice refers to a non-Jewish man as a “goy,” a derogatory term for a non-Jew.

“If you are in contact with a goy and need assistance, press 1,” is the first option offered by the service, which continues by asking callers if they wish to inform on others.

“If you know a girl who is involved with a goy and you want to help her, press 2,” the voice recording says.

The service then asks for information about non-Jewish men who are in relationships with Jews.

“If you know of a goy who masquerades as a Jew or is harassing Jewish women, or of locations where there is an assimilation problem, press 3.”

“The purpose is to submit immediate reports about girls who are going out with Arabs, and about Arabs who are pretending to be Jews in order to catch Jewish girls in their net,” the chairman of the Lehava organization, Bentzi Gupstein, told Walla, claiming that each report was acted on immediately, as a matter of life and death.

“We approach the girl in question and tell her about the life that awaits her with the selfsame Ahmed who at the moment is calling himself Yossi,” he explained.

Examples such as this expose the worst excesses of Jewishness, Judaism, and Zionism. They perpetuate the creation of a relationship between the enacting of sexual attraction or desire and assimilation, as well as encouraging both anti-Palestinian and anti-woman sentiments. They distill for us a problematic that exists in more subtle, less overtly racist and sexist ways, in Jewish communities across the world.